Feline Friday is my chance to celebrate famous cats across the arts, whether their origins are in gaming, film, anime, literature or anywhere else.
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First Appearance: Weekly Shōnen Jump #1744, No. 32 (2003)
One of my favourite things about Japanese storytelling is its patience.
In manga, singular plot points can span over the course of several years, allowing each battle or character development to really settle in and flourish. In the case of Hunter x Hunter’s Chimera Ant arc, readers would have to wait almost an entire decade to reach its conclusion.
Admittedly, a great deal of this was due to hiatuses, but the point still remains: Gon and his friends’ struggle against Meruem’s army of hideous creatures lasted all of 132 chapters.
Among these soldiers, perhaps none are more fascinating than Neferpitou.
The first of Meruem’s Royal Guards, Pitou was born into the world with catlike features (the nature of the Chimera Ants being that they appropriate elements of the creatures their queen feasts upon). As such, they are curious, playful and flighty.
Though their sense of duty to protect the king was evident, in their downtime they were more inclined to goof off or expand their knowledge of the world. Once they had locked onto their prey, however, they were downright lethal. The first time they encountered our protagonists, Killua took one look at their menacing presence and nope’d out of the fight.
Killua, incidentally, being the boy who can snatch the hearts from people’s chests so quickly they’re still beating in his hand. So yeah, when even he says Goodbye Kitty, you know that you are right down shit creek without a paddle.
Honestly, it’s cool to see a feline character portrayed as cruel and menacing in this way. Usually, if a cat is going to be a villain, it’s in an archetypal sense where they end up looking like a bumbling fool. My man Tom Cat has been suffering through this cycle of indignation for more than eighty years now.
In the case of Neferpitou, however, it’s more like an apex predator that has its victim in its sights. They are intimidating, unnerving and clearly not someone you want to mess with.
In short time, Pitou begins to experiment with Nen, an ethereal power that allows its user to manipulate their own aura in a variety of ways. This allows for otherworldly capabilities, and in this case, it manifests in a rather disturbing fashion.
Pitou can summon Dr. Blythe, a large, floating creature that performs surgery to repair wounds, and when an enemy is felled, they can control the cadaver like a sickening puppet from beyond the grave. If need be, they can even use their own body in this fashion.
It could go on to explain their rather disconcerting joints, which could either represent their insect nature, or perhaps indicate their fascination with marionettes. I only just realised that literally in this moment, and I’m quite chuffed with myself.
Like their Royal Guard contemporaries, much of this beast’s full potential is merely a mystery that we hope never to find out. The war against the Chimera Ants is treated as the crux of everything that happened before this, requiring the combined efforts of multiple forces to even infiltrate their stronghold.
Most significantly however, it is the actions of Neferpitou specifically that changes the happy-go-lucky Gon in such a way, he retaliates in a most brutal fashion. In manga, transformations are usually treated with reverence: at last, an untapped level of might that could turn the tides of battle has emerged!
In this case, however, it is… wrong, and quite ghastly. If you were to only view their final duel, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Pitou is the good guy here. The character rapidly develops various layers over a short span of time, leading to a reversal of fates that almost renders them a sympathetic figure.
We’re taken to a morally grey area that was hitherto unexplored, and it is truly not a moment for the fainthearted.
Whether it’s the design, the abilities, or the things this fiendish hybrid accomplishes over the course of the Chimera Ant arc, they have stuck with me long since. The motivations of villains across Hunter x Hunter range from enterprising — such is the case with the Phantom Troupe — to pure self-indulgence — yes, I am looking at you Hisoka (from a safe distance though, please don’t murder me).
Neferpitou, though? Fealty to their monarch is their driving factor from the very start, but the way it applies that is what makes them truly unforgettable. ニャルホド。。。